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In this simulation, students explore how a compass works to point to Earth's poles. By moving a virtual compass around a bar magnet, users can predict the direction of the magnetic field for different locations. Now superimpose a planet Earth over the bar magnet and see the surprising results in the orientation of the poles! The simulation can be adapted well for use in middle school. For older students, add the field meter.

Editor's Note: In a unit on magnetism, teachers may wish to introduce a hands-on experiment prior to introducing the simulation. See Related Materials for recommended hands-on magnet labs.

This resource is part of a large collection of simulations developed by the Physics Education Technology project (PhET).

Please note that this resource requires at least version 1.5 of Java.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Electricity & Magnetism
- Magnetic Fields and Forces
= Interacting Magnets
= Magnetic Fields
- Middle School
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Informal Education
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Intended Users:
General Public
Access Rights:
Free access
This material is released under a GNU General Public License Version 2 license. Additional information is available.
Rights Holder:
PHET and University of Colorado
Earth's magnetic field, bar magnet, compass, magnetic field, magnetism simulation
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created January 23, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 18, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
September 1, 2010

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4G. Forces of Nature
  • 9-12: 4G/H7. Electric currents in the earth's interior give the earth an extensive magnetic field, which we detect from the orientation of compass needles.

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
, Version 1.02 (PhET, Boulder, 2008), WWW Document, (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/magnet-and-compass).
PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass, , Version 1.02 (PhET, Boulder, 2008), <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/magnet-and-compass>.
APA Format
PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass. (2010, September 1). Retrieved December 4, 2021, from PhET: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/magnet-and-compass
Chicago Format
PhET. PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass. Boulder: PhET, September 1, 2010. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/magnet-and-compass (accessed 4 December 2021).
MLA Format
PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass. Vers. 1.02. Boulder: PhET, 2008. 1 Sep. 2010. 4 Dec. 2021 <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/magnet-and-compass>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2021}, Number = {4 December 2021}, Month = {September 1, 2010}, Year = {2008} }
Refer Export Format

%T PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass %D September 1, 2010 %I PhET %C Boulder %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/magnet-and-compass %O 1.02 %O application/java

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D September 1, 2010 %T PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass %I PhET %V 2021 %N 4 December 2021 %7 1.02 %8 September 1, 2010 %9 application/java %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/magnet-and-compass

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Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Style.org: Electronic References.

The Chicago Style presented is based on information from Examples of Chicago-Style Documentation.

The MLA Style presented is based on information from the MLA FAQ.

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PhET Simulation: Magnet and Compass:

Covers the Same Topic As Magnet Man: Cool Experiments with Magnets

A comprehensive set of hands-on lab experiments using permanent magnets and electromagnets, most of which can be adapted easily to the secondary science classroom.

relation by Caroline Hall
Covers the Same Topic As http://www.magnet.fsu.edu/education/tutorials/java/magcompass/index.html

A closely related simulation to explore how a compass responds to magnetic fields. A bar magnet may be moved about a compass to demonstrate strength-of-field. Remove the bar magnet to see the compass needle point north to the Earth's magnetic pole.

relation by Caroline Hall

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